Lifestyle, Perfume

The role of chemistry in perfumery for British Science Week

I am often contacted by enthusiastic fragrance lovers who want to know how to become a perfumer. This week it was British Science Week, so I want to celebrate the role of chemistry in perfumery! Of course having a science background is not essential for becoming a perfumer, however this has helped me in my career.

I studied Chemistry at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, during the 1970s. I have to admit that I also did my fair share of non-studying and enjoying myself!

Early in my career as a perfumer as I was going through my training, I created many fragrances for personal care (e.g. deodorants, hair care) and household (e.g. cleaning) products. My chemistry background gave me an understanding of how easily bonds of molecules would break in different environments, especially high or low pH – as in bleach, detergent, other functional products, as well as deodorants, hair treatments. So this was useful for my early development as a perfumer.

In terms of fine fragrance, which is where I spend a lot of my time now, chemistry gives an insight into the following areas:

  • Volatility: this is especially important for understanding whether an ingredient will operate as a top, middle, or base note;
  • Reactivity: this is essential for when I make fragrances because I will have an idea of any reactions and changes that may take place within the formula;
  • Longlastingness: I can infer how long a fragrance will last from its chemical constituents;
  • Stability: a fragrance is a living being and from the moment its born, it changes and can develop or deteriorate based on the chemistry of its ingredients.

I am passionate about encouraging young people to study Science because with its help, I have spent my career doing something creative and something I adore! So I hope this will encourage any scientists out there to consider a career in the creative world of perfume!

Ruth x

Just like humans can have chemistry between them, so too do the oils and ingredients that I use in my fragrances. Understanding how combinations are going to react based on their properties gives me an advantage when composing a new scent.

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